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Jordan gives Halloween a dressing-down

There’s a “Heroes and Villains” Halloween Party happening Friday at Canvas, an upscale bar nestled beside one of this city’s few parks, but ghosts, ghouls and goblins (or any other creature, for that matter) are not welcome.

“Because of all the drama, we aren’t allowed to let anyone in with a costume,” Hasan Hijawi, a deejay and one of the party’s organizers, announced with a tinge of regret a few days ago on Facebook.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Halloween in Jordan: In the Oct. 31 Section A, an article about Jordan’s decision to ban celebrations related to Halloween said that alcohol is illegal in the country. Alcohol is legal there. —
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The “drama” refers to the fact that Halloween has been canceled — at least here in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Jordan’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday banned all celebrations this year related to the holiday, which is rooted in paganism but associated for centuries with the Feast of All Saints, marked by Christians. A ministry spokesman, Ziad Zoubi, cited previous years’ festivities as being of “a character that hurts Jordan’s security.” He did not elaborate.

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Hijawi and his colleagues are determined to forge ahead.

“OUR PARTY IS STILL ON. They can’t take our right to party. So no costumes, but still an awesome time,” they proclaimed.

Halloween celebrations for grown-ups have become popular in recent years in this cosmopolitan capital, but not without a backlash. Some claim that such gatherings amount to devil worship. Media outlets in recent years have published photos purporting to show that Halloween festivities were in fact satanic rituals replete with blood drinking and witchcraft.

The ban illustrates the tensions that are increasingly apparent these days as Jordan’s affluent, educated, Westernized elite bumps up against the far more conservative values held by many compatriots, especially those outside the capital. The desert kingdom, considered an oasis of relative political calm in a turbulent region, has long straddled a fine line between its role as a Western ally and a stronghold of traditional Middle Eastern values.

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Halloween costumes typically worn by Jordanian partygoers, though probably tame by Western standards, by no means conform to religious edicts on how women ought to dress, or to the general standard of modesty expected of both genders. Even without the overtly risque attire that commonly characterizes adult Halloween gatherings in U.S. cities — the sexy nurse, the all-too-handy handyman — there’s plenty of flirty territory capable of offending the devout.

Moreover, Halloween-themed parties at hotels and other upscale venues generally serve alcohol, which is legal in Jordan but abhorred by pious Muslims. Class tensions play a part as well; costumed revelers tend to be far better off materially than the vast majority of those living in Jordan, which has been inundated by a wave of war refugees from nearby Syria and Iraq.

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For the Record

Oct. 31, 9:24 a.m.: An earlier version of this article said that alcohol is illegal in Jordan. Alcohol is legal there.

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The ministry’s edict is primarily aimed at adults; door-to-door trick-or-treating by children is virtually unheard of in pedestrian-unfriendly Amman, where cars whiz by mid-rise apartments or gated courtyards.

While the Halloween party ban — announced only two days before the holiday — is probably all but unenforceable in private homes, it has provoked the ire of the organizers of several large-scale bashes planned at public venues.

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“I don’t think Jordan’s security threat comes from Halloween parties,” said Hijawi. “I think our internal threat comes from lack of common sense and the sheer ignorance some government officials seem to thrive on.”

Major holidays like Christmas are generally tolerated and even celebrated in Jordan, as in neighboring Muslim countries, especially because they are marked not only by expatriates but a significant domestic Christian minority. In the predominantly Christian town of Fuheis, roughly 12 miles northwest of Amman, a large Christmas tree is erected in the main square every year.

Halloween, however, seems to have struck a nerve. In 2012, Hamza Mansour, the head of the country’s Muslim Brotherhood-linked party, known as the Islamic Action Front, sent a letter to the prime minister after a particularly raucous Halloween party in the capital. (Riot police were brought in.) He declared the gathering was “not an innocent activity.... Shameful sights were seen.”

Last year, some parties were disrupted by rock-throwing youths who cursed and harassed the revelers.

This year, with Jordan’s borders menaced for the first time by the militants of Islamic State, there has been a growing fear of extremism at home — and little inclination to live-and-let-costume.

The main sounding board for unhappiness over this year’s non-Halloween was social media.

“Those who can’t reach the grapes say they’re sour,” wrote one commentator, who described the ban as a “step back” and part of the “Talibanization of the country.”

Others supported the ban, demanding that the government “cancel all these Crusader parties that have no connection to [Jordanians], and close down the nightclubs and bars.”

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For one, identified as “Female Citizen,” the ban seemed to be a source of relief.

“Truly the country has gone bad. What is this Halloween? I swear if they allowed them [to hold parties], then killing would begin immediately. People would don scarecrow outfits and kill.”

Costumes or no costumes, habitues of Canvas intend to have a good time.

“I personally couldn’t care less about the stupid costumes,” wrote one prospective guest on the event’s Facebook page. “The idea is to come party with all you lovely people.”

Bulos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.


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